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Hands-on with YouTube for iOS and Google Cardboard

Google finally brought Cardboard support to its iOS YouTube app on Monday, more than six months after the same feature hit Android. I couldn’t wait to try it out for myself and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. This still isn’t a totally immersive virtual reality experience, but it may just be the best way to watch YouTube on your iPhone.

Jumping into Google Cardboard mode is extremely easy. Just launch any video on YouTube and tap the options button (those three vertical dots) in the top right corner. Then hit the Cardboard button to instantly enter VR mode, which splits the screen into two identical boxes that respond to the phone’s movement. Finally, slide the iPhone into a Google Cardboard headset and you’re ready to go.

Watching a YouTube video with Google Cardboard feels like watching it on a big TV. The phone’s display may be sitting just a few inches away from your eyes, but it feels like you’re looking at a screen on the other side of the room. One big drawback is that the image isn’t as crisp, likely because Apple doesn’t design the iPhone display with VR in mind.

A recent TechnoBuffalo video focused on cool ridable tech was the perfect test for YouTube’s new feature. Even though the image was flat, it almost felt like I was actually riding that Turbo S electric bike. If you’re watching anything with a first-person view and you have a Cardboard viewer on hand, it’s definitely worth using this new feature.

Google’s also come up with a few clever ways to navigate YouTube in VR. If the actual video gets lost off screen, you can just tap on the phone’s display to re-center it. You can also pause and skip around the video by pressing Cardboard’s single button. You aim the cursor by moving your head. This feature works very well, and I was able to jump to a specific part of a video without any trouble.

Watching YouTube videos in Google Cardboard is still a far cry from actual virtual reality. This isn’t even close to a substitute for an Oculus Rift or a Gear VR, but it’s still a great way to get something extra out of that Cardboard headset that’s sitting on your desk collecting dust.

Jacob Kleinman

Jacob Kleinman has been working as a journalist online and in print since he arrived at Wesleyan University in 2007. After graduating, he took a...